Requiem for a Giant

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Maharaj Kumari Binodini, nee Wangonsana, but affectionately Imasi to many generations of Manipuris, a woman who has dominated the literally and cultural horizon not just amongst women but the entire state for almost an century, passed away quietly yesterday at her Yaiskul Police Lane residence after a protracted age related illness at the ripe old age of 89. With her died not only an immense, indeed awesome institution, but also half of the legacy of creative tradition in Manipur. There is nowhere in any field of the creative arts that the lady has not left a mark or a foundation for the future generations of artistes to stand on and begin their own creative journeys. As for instance, she took a key role in the founding of the Roop Raag, the vehicle on which modern Manipuri music rode and rose to great heights in the last part of the 20th Century, nobody has written a better historical novel than her “Bor Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi”, short story writers will discover her signatures at any heights they succeed in scaling, indicating she had been there before them, she is painter and sculptor par excellence… the list can go on. Indeed, if not for the colossal pioneering role she took in nurturing the creative arts in the state to health and indeed prosperity, many generations after her would have had to start by inventing the wheel in many if not all of these fields. Above all this however, she was a matriarch who loved Manipur and her children. The state owes her not just respect, but gratitude. Creative arts and its proliferating number of institutions in the state today, both private and governmental, are truly orphaned by her demise.

That she lived to be 89 is itself a proof of her will to live. But there was more. She was one of those rare personalities whose will was not just to live, but to be alive every moment. There is a huge difference between the two. Till just a few years ago, until she became infirm and bedridden, she continued her constant and active interaction with the society she loved. She remained its true and honest critic to the last too. Well into her octogenarian years, she was still writing newspaper articles and shooting off angry letters to the editor on issues in Manipur that affronted her sensibilities as a law abiding senior citizen. There was for instance a letter expressing her outrage at seeing the casual manner in which the archival Thangal Temple was being cement coated and whitewashed in preparation for Republic Day celebration. She had also shot off similar letters and sometimes articles sharing public outrage at the beastly kidnap and murder of Lungnila Elizabeth, rising gun violence in the society etc. The Imphal Free Press is fortunate to have won her trust, and we published a number of these articles and letters through the years. Some of these we intend to reproduce in the coming days. In this respect, she would beat not just her peers, but also so many of the so called fiery democracy champions, in her sense of responsibility and intuitive understanding that democracy can make sense only if its citizens participated in it actively and radically.

The last point is the most unacknowledged. This is understandable in a state which has come to believe democracy is about winning elections alone, using whatever means fair or foul. Or else it is self perpetrating system in which some people get to rule and others are left to be ruled. In a reciprocal process, just as much as the system shaped the general mindset, the general mindset also has ensured this skewed system. Nobody has even given it a thought that democracy should be about participatory ruling, in which aggregate public opinions shape the governance system. This being the case, sane and progressive outlook to the democratic process such as demonstrated by Imasi in wishing her dissent as well as assent to the ways of the society and government known, were destined to be voices in the wilderness. The best tribute to her memory then is for everybody to imbibe this lesson and come out to participate in an informed, committed and radical manner, in making the practice of democracy in the state, a rule by debate in its letter and spirit. Let the voices once lost in the wilderness reverberate in the well of the august state Assembly and in every corridor of power in Imphal.

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